effective action

Juan Cole has a couple of really interesting posts up at the moment. In them, he argues that street protests are completely ineffective. Beyond a symbolic value, I tend to agree. However, he also puts forward his analysis of how the system works, and thus what effective action actually would be. In a nutshell, this is forming monetary lobby groups to challenge the wealthy/powerful single issue lobby groups currently operating unopposed. He argues that we need to target funding to those who will support our positions so that they can survive in the political environment. The bit that interests me is he takes as his model the fundraising of Obama, MoveOn.org, etc – open source, net based, lots of little contributions from real people to match single large contributions from front groups.

This relatively informal quote captures the perspective:

The US Senate and the US House of Representatives are not afraid of street protests in San Francisco. And why should they be? What sort of threat is it to them, that we say if they don’t change their legislation we will . . . walk in the street? Their response would be, “Make sure you have comfortable shoes; now, I have to see this nice lobbyist in my office in a thousand dollar suit and alligator shoes who has an enormous check for my current political campaign.”

The representative would say to us, “I want to be reelected. You cannot stop that by walking in the street, nor can you help me win by doing so. This televangelist from an Israel lobby, in contrast, is going to help me buy loads of television commercials dissing my opponents in the next election. And, if I don’t help the gentleman out, he’s threatening to give the money instead to my rival and unseat me. So you’ll forgive me if I turn my back on you and wish you well with your, uh, walking. But I’ve got an election to win, rather than to lose, and you are irrelevant to that task.”

His case study/prompt is the Israel lobby, and his numbers come from the American setting, but yeah, anyone interested in this area should check these posts out. (Here are links to the first post, and the followup.)

The point is, these things don’t exist, but they could easily exist.

4 Responses to “effective action”

  1.   Rich
    January 14th, 2009 | 7:57 am

    I was thinking about the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of different kinds of actions earlier.

    Street protests do work, if they’re large and sustained enough. In the UK in 1990, there were riots against the poll tax (an inequitable way of funding local councils, introduced by Thatcher). I think these riots were in important factor in rattling the Tories enough for them to remove Thatcher from office.

    Myself, I can’t see the US ceasing to support Israel. About the only thing that might change that would be if Jewish Americans were themselves to lose faith in the state – perhaps if “democracy” collapsed in Israel itself and a theocratic or totalitarian leader came to power there.

  2.   Bruce
    January 14th, 2009 | 10:59 am

    yeah, not sure if fighting fire with fire is always the best– if the objective is to compete monetarily then can the grass roots really raise more $ than the corporations/organized churches, and can the grass roots organizations that are responsible for organizing that much money stay honest?

    How can grass roots compete for example with banks, that just received hundreds of billions of dollars from the government itself?

    Which is not to say that there is some good in this idea. But I don’t ever see it being able to compete in toe-to-toe money battles.

  3.   Bruce
    January 14th, 2009 | 11:00 am

    yeah, not sure if fighting fire with fire is always the best– if the objective is to compete monetarily then can the grass roots really raise more $ than the corporations/organized churches, and can the grass roots organizations that are responsible for organizing that much money stay honest?

    How can grass roots compete for example with banks, that just received hundreds of billions of dollars from the government itself?

    Which is not to say that there is some good in this idea. But I don’t ever see it being able to compete in toe-to-toe money battles.

    There is also a tacit acceptance of the support of elected officials going towards those who write the biggest checks. This is not OK.

  4.   Administrator
    January 14th, 2009 | 2:30 pm

    Bruce: I think there are limits to what individual donors can give.

    I agree democracy should not be bought. But if it is being bought, then buying it is an effective action.